|Alexander Keith's is coming out with a new Hop Mason craft beer, which is closer to an original IPA. (Alexander Keith's Facebook)
As craft beer continues to expand its market segment, it was only a matter of time until large brewers started to make craft beer like products.
There’s a significant amount of debate about this problem in the U.S. at the moment that centres around the creation of brands by large multinational companies which look as though they might be an independent craft brewery. As you can imagine, many craft brewers have problems with this. It is my grudging suspicion that only a very small amount of the public takes the debate seriously and that most of them probably just want to drink a beer without hearing about it.
It’s a little bit different in Canada. We have large brewers creating craft like products, but they aren’t camouflaging it in the same way. New beers are generally introduced under existing labels like Rickard’s or Keith’s. Take, for instance, the latest offering from Labatt owned Alexander Keith’s. It’s a draft only product called Hop Mason, which is brewed exclusively for Prime Pubs.
Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, the core product in the Keith’s lineup, periodically comes under scrutiny for its name. It is far too light in hop flavour to be qualified as an India Pale Ale. There was probably a time when it would have qualified, but it’s likely that the recipe was lightened over the latter part of the 20th century. Alexander Keith himself might not recognize it.
Hop Mason is a different beast altogether. The brand seeks to pay homage to the brewery’s founder, who was a Grand Master mason. I have to assume that a Hop Mason ranks somewhere below Grand Master in the Masonic order.
Part of the appeal here is that Keith’s has brewed a beer that is actually an IPA. It weighs in at 5.8% alcohol and is, according to a representative of the brewery, an all malt product. It is a comparatively bitter beer, sitting at 45 IBUs, which are derived from Centennial and Cascade hops. This means that the aroma and flavour lean heavily towards citrus with a small hit of pine, making this an American style IPA.
Those of you who are craft beer fanatics might find it somewhat gentle compared to the majority of IPAs on the market in Canada, and you’d be right to think that. It’s a comparatively cautious IPA, and it wears the hallmarks of a large brewer on its sleeve.
While the colour is right for an IPA (something like a medium gold tinged with red), it is a great deal more clear than other beers in this range. It also has a much lighter body than its craft counterparts, seemingly leaning towards refreshment at the expense of flavour. Neither of these things is surprising, given that the source is a large brewer that tends to focus on making light, refreshing beers. If you give a man a mason’s hammer, everything is a nail.
That said, Alexander Keith’s Hop Mason is probably the most successful foray into craft like beer from a large label in Canada. I don’t know that it is assertive enough to stand up to the large and growing selection of IPAs that are available, but it would be disingenuous to claim that it was anything other than a solid offering. I liked it enough to order a second pint after reviewing the first one.
It will be interesting to see whether Hop Mason does well enough on draught to justify bottling it. It doesn’t really feel like a craft beer, and since there are no other large label IPAs on the market, this is uncharted territory.